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WWII veterans invited to visit China



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One of the men who will attend called the trip 'the opportunity of a lifetime.'

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A World War II veteran involved in a daring bombing run over Japan won't have to worry about bailing out of his airplane when he flies to China this time.

Eighty-nine-year-old Tom Griffin, one of the few surviving members of the group known as Doolittle Raiders, will be among American veterans returning to China this summer for a 17-day tour. The government invited the veterans, who helped fight the Japanese invaders.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," said Griffin, who lives in suburban Green Township.

"When you are as old as we are, you never know when you'll get another chance to visit."

'First heroes of the war'

Griffin, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps' Doolittle Raiders, was one of 80 airmen aboard 16 B-25 bombers making the daylight raid over Japan on April 18, 1942. The bombers, taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet even though they were designed to take off from land, were led by legendary aviator Jimmy Doolittle.

The raid was designed as payback for Pearl Harbor five months before.

"Our plane was supposed to bomb a factory in Tokyo," Griffin recalled. "But we missed and got the factory's next-door neighbor, Tokyo Gas & amp; Electric. We knocked their lights out."

After the run, the planes flew to China where the airmen bailed out. Griffin jumped from his plane, called the Whirling Dervish, at 10,000 feet as the plane ran out of fuel.

"I landed in a tree. My parachute caught in the branches. I just unbuckled my belt and walked away," he said.

"It was a lucky landing."

Griffin lived in huts and marched through enemy-held territory. He contracted malaria while being smuggled out of China through India and Africa, across the Atlantic and into South America before getting back to the United States.

"We were considered the first heroes of the war," said Griffin, who frowned when he used the word.

"We weren't heroes," he insisted. "We were just doing a job."

Travel companion

Just 17 Raiders remain and of those, only Dick Cole, Doolittle's co-pilot, is planning to make the trip with Griffin.

"I'm a little more mature than I was when I first visited China," joked Cole, a Comfort, Texas, resident who will turn 90 on the trip. "But Tom and I are still mobile, still inquisitive."

Griffin was shot down over Sicily during a bombing run against Nazi targets July 4, 1943. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

Griffin moved to Cincinnati and opened an accounting firm after the war.

With so much attention being paid to members of his generation, Griffin receives countless requests to talk about his wartime experience.

As he walked along rows of restored aircraft at the Tristate Warbird Museum in Clermont County during a recent visit, he stopped and stared at a B-25.

He ran his hands around the rim of the 2-by-4-foot hatch and then gingerly stepped into the plane, gazing at the navigator's seat and then the cockpit.

"I can almost hear voices from the past," he whispered.




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